This particularly rich ecosystem is subject to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. The luxuriant vegetation is the refuge of an abundant fauna : the orangutan, but also the tiger and the rhinoceros of Sumatra. The island has an incredibe diveristy of cultures, each with its own arts, traditions, music and handicrafts.
It gathers a mosaic of peoples : from the fervent Muslims of Aceh to the Batak Christians, through the matrilineal society of the Minangkabau of Padang. All of them coexist most of the time in good understanding, united by the same love and fear of their savage land.
There are many things to see and do traveling around Sumatra. Jungle trekking, surfing, snorkeling and diving, climbing mountains and volcanoes, whitewater rafting, fishing in the ocean, river or lakes and a huge selection of flora and fauna to see.
Sumatra is the 5th largest island in the world after Australia, Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo and the third largest in Indonesia. It borders the Indian Ocean to the west and Malaysia to the east, separated from the Malay peninsula by the Malacca strait.
The terrain of Sumatra is mostly mountainous with the equator crossing Sumatra just north of Bukittinggi and Padang, and is a paradise for the adventure traveler. There are about 90 volcanoes on Sumatra, of which 15 are still active.
Sumatra is divided into 10 provinces with its capital cities: Aceh (Banda Aceh), North Sumatra (Medan), West Sumatra (Padang), Jambi (Jambi), Riau (Pekanbaru), Riau Islands (Tanjung Pinang), Bengkulu (Bengkulu), Bangka-Belitun (Pangkal Pinang), Lampung (Bandar Lampung), South Sumatra (Palembang).
Sumatra is a tropical island. The average temperature is between 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. The coast can be really hot. Fortunately for the traveler, most of the attractions are located in the highlands, where the nights can be rather cool.
The best time to visit Sumatra is during the dry season between May and September. Time of the wet season can vary a lot, usually with January as the wettest month. Travel is still possible during this time of year but can slow things up. The wet season starts in September with regular afternoon showers and progresses through to January/February with longer periods of rain.
Large parts of the island are still covered by rain forest, and the wildlife is rich and diverse. Unfortunately, some species are highly endangered (including orangutan, sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, asian elephant, tapirs, crocodiles and gibbons), much due to loss of habitat caused by the increased deforesting. Large areas are now made into national parks and reserves, and programs like rehabilitation of illegally captured orangutans give some results. The most popular parks are Gunung Leuser to the north and Kerinci Seblat south of Padang.
There is a wide variety of plants in Sumatra, including the world largest (and smelliest) flower : the Rafflesia. She can weigh up to 7kg and is also found in the rainforest of North Sumatra. Sumatra is also home to the arum titan (the tallest and largest inflorescence flower in the world), as well as Carnivorous plants and more particularly Nepenthes. There are also many orchid species, such as Paphiopedilum or Phalaenopsis.
Islam first came here and to the rest of South East Asia late in the 13th century, at first to the north east coast were one of the first cities that converted to Islam was Samudra. This name was later given to the entire island, Samudra means “ocean” in Sanskrit. This part of Sumatra was from the 16th century called the Sultanate of Aceh, an area today known for its strong independence movement and maybe the region in Indonesia were Islam has the strongest position
Much of Sumatra’s population today descends from Malay people, the largest ethnic groups are Acehnese, Batak, Minangkabau, Gayo and some other, smaller indigenous groups. In the big cities there are also large groups of Chinese, Arabs and Indians.
With a population of 50 million people, it is made up of many different ethnic tribes speaking 52 different languages.
Sumatra's big shapes and cultural differences are being reflected in the richness of languages. Most Sumatran languages belong to the enormous family of Austronesian languages. Malay is the predecessor of the current language, the Bahasa Indonesia. The language is always used in the eastern part of the island, and 11 million people speak it as their mother-language.
Nevertheless, in northern Sumatra, 1,5 million people speak Acehnese, and Gayo is spoken by a much smaller group. More south, around Lake Toba, is the heart of the Batak with its many dialects, which can be so different sometimes that they almost form separate languages. The most spoken dialects is the Toba Batak, followed by Karo, Angkola, Mandailing, Dairi, Simalungun and Alas.
In the fertile highlands of western and central Sumatra live the 4 million Minangkabau. Further south, in the provinces of Riau, Jambi and Sumatra Selatan, numerous dialects of Malay is spoken. In parts of Bengkulu, Rejang is the most spoken language, and in the southern tip of the island people speak Lampung. The four groups of islands along the western coast (Sumeulue, Nias, Mentawai and Enggano) have their own separate languages.
Sumatra food is traditionally very spicy with lots of chilli, lemon grass, ginger, garlic and coriander. Some of the spiciest food in all of Indonesian is the Padangese food from Padang in West Sumatra (where you can at the famous rendang).
One of the most popular national garnishes is nasi goreng, fried rice with an addition of vegetables or seafood. Fans of spicy food would like Gado Gado salad, which is made of boiled vegetables and tofu and seasoned with spicy peanut sauce.
As for meat treats, the most common components are chicken and beef. In local restaurants visitors are recommended to order satay, small skewers of meat and seafood. Delicious seafood is offered at every coastal restaurant of Sumatra. You don't have to miss small salty fishes : the best of all Indonesia are found here !
Sumatra is rapidly becoming more and more touristic, and the facilities for visitors have improved in recent years. For those who want to experience something different and unspoiled there are still possibilities on this huge and diverse island. Indonesians have a strong rooted hospitality towards foreigners that visit their country which could explain the genuine smiles and their curiosity when you meet them.
Most touristic areas and hotspots in Sumatra are located in the west and central-north. Padang has a unique culture (and food) with the stunning island of Siberut, where it's possible to meet Mentawai tribe aswell as surfing with perfect waves. Bukkittingi has a famous market known in all Sumatra, and is center of the Minangkabau culture. Lake Toba is generally a must stopover to relax few days after a trek in the village of Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is home to the last orang-outans of the planet and offers jungle trekking. Berastagi, between these two places, offers a nice climb on one of the last active volcano of the island. Further north, small islands of Pulau Weh attracts tourists with her pristine blue water and offers one of the best spot for diving.